You wouldn't need to see the Harley Davidson handlebar tattoo on the back of her shoulders, the handgrips angled slightly down on each scapula, to know that Melody Rimes didn't give a shit. She was a stone in skintight jeans, a black teeshirt hanging loose over bony shoulders and small breasts. Her narrow eyes and sharp nose gave her face a slight ferret quality, but it somehow worked for her. A cigarette dangled from her grim lips, and she brushed back her spiky black hair with her left hand, black enameled fingernails hiding the oily grime beneath. Melody was staring down the street. Her dark brown eyes glinted into the sun setting between the buildings, which cast into sharp relief the receding silhouette of the only man in the world who could talk to her "like that."
Melody Rimes had long ago learned how not to give a shit. Raised on the wrong side of the tracks, of which there were many in the coal town of Sprague, West Virginia, she often slipped away from her family after an early and mean supper to sneak up the hill and beg for handouts from the "rich folk" enjoying their lawn parties and cookouts on The Heights. Melody didn't give a shit because she was hungry. Raymond, her father, was a disabled coal miner and her mother, Betty Lu, was a corpulent, smock-wearing, chain-smoking, former high-school beauty queen who started and ended each sentence with the word "fuck." Between buying cigarettes, Zelko vodka, and lottery tickets, the Rimes didn't have much left to put on the table. So Melody begged.
And Raymond and Betty Lu had to name her Melody, too, in probably one of the last light-hearted moments either of them would ever know. Melody had to live with that name every day at school, kids calling it out in singsong monotony and rhyming nonsense words, laughing at her clothes, her hygiene, and her nasal twang learned from a life in the hollow. She was an outcast, friend to nobody and nobody's friend. Misery was her life, so as soon as the law allowed, at 16, she dropped out and started bagging groceries at the local Piggly-Wiggly, hiding her paycheck from her parents who thought that she still was going to school.
At 18, she left home, used the only thing she had to find a new life with a local biker gang. They all did her, she didn't mind; Rambling Jack Rose and the Chief and Buttergood and Cueball and others. She actually kind of liked it sometimes. At least she had something that somebody wanted. Cueball knocked her up; she wasn't sure it was him, but close enough. She had the abortion, and then more sex, drugs, and wild rides with whiskey filled out the gang's days. They'd score some Oxy and meth, and keep the local junk dealer busy. Paycheck in, sweet oblivion out.
Then, the only man in the world who could talk to her "like that" showed up. Melody and Cueball were watching NASCAR on ESPN from the threadbare sofa of their "clubhouse," a two bedroom clapboard structure they rented from the guy who owned the Railcar, the only real bar in town. Cueball was fiddling with his key chain and smoking a Camel, slurping Natty Bo in between drags. Melody was thinking about her father, not a bad man really, but feckless and sick. He had gotten Black lung working in the mine, one that turned out to be notoriously unsafe. A cave-in killed dozens of miners soon after Raymond went on disability and the laundry list of safety violations ignored by the CEO, including faulty air filters, eventually sent him to jail. With each year a little more of Raymond wasted away, and Betty Lu began adding more "fucks" into the middle of her sentences until she became profanity itself. Dying quickly in a cave-in might have been better for her father, Melody was thinking.
She had just come back after seeing him when she went to the house to pick some things up. He had been sitting in his chair, plugged into his oxygen tank, sallow and rheumy in equal measure . Betty Lu was out somewhere, "anywhere but here," Melody had thought. She had hoped he would be asleep. He wasn't.
"Girl, what you doing?" he had wheezed when she came in the door.
"Nothing, just picking up a few things, that's all."
"Then you going back to that house?"
"Yeah. That's where I live."
"It's a dump. Why you gonna live in a dump?"
Melody looked around the room, dishes piled up, the odor of fry oil hanging heavy in the air, duct tape over a crack in the front door window.
"A dump, Pa?"
"Yeah, a dump."
"Do I need a reason?"
"Then I ain't got one."
And so she had gone into her room, got her things. and walked past him and out the door.
"Just want what's best for you, Mel, that's all," he had muttered as the screen door slammed shut.
And Melody had kept walking. And now she was thinking, sitting there on the sofa with Cueball and listening to the roar of engines on the tube, that she was nothing more than a big greasy fur ball hocked up by fate; capital "F" fucking Fate, that is.
Cueball had nodded off. Over the whine of the race cars Melody heard someone knocking at the door.